December 29, 2019

Three-beer catch-up: Malka Hoppy Wheat, Alexander Barley Wine 2019, Shevet Small Batch ESB

It's always fun to catch up on some new Israeli craft beers.  First of all, I enjoy encountering new tastes and giving credit where it's due to the breweries that have invested talent, time and money to bring a new product to the market.

I also never forget that just a few years ago the idea of finding and reporting on new Israeli beers would have been in the realm of pulp fiction.

The first new, or rather, newly formulated, beer is Hoppy Wheat from the Malka Brewery in Tefen in the northern Galilee.  There will be those of you who quickly point out that Malka has had a wheat beer since about 2012, and you would be right.  But they have recently redesigned the recipe from a Bavarian-style hefeweizen to an American wheat.

Look for the words
"Hoppy Wheat" for
Malka's new
American Wheat beer.
"Israel has enough German-style wheat beers, both local and imported from Germany," says Gilad Dror, Beer Brands Manager at Hacarem Spirits Ltd., a partner in the Malka Brewery.  "We brought an American-style wheat beer to the market -- more hop character than hefeweizens, with none of the typical spicy and fruity flavors such as banana and cloves."

And in fact, our Tasters confirm that Hoppy Wheat has hop strength somewhere between a German-style wheat (low) and an American Pale Ale (high).  We detected or imagined strong hop aromas of  citrus (lemon, grapefruit, orange peel), while the taste was basically a pale ale.  It's a very refreshing and thirst-quenching beer, going well with a wide variety of foods.  The color is a semi-hazy pale straw with a lasting white head.  Alcohol by volume is 5%.

Something completely different comes from the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer -- the 2019 version of their Barley Wine, with a powerful 11.2% alcohol.  A traditional winter drink, barley wines are among the strongest beer styles, taking their names from the alcohol content which is similar to wine.  [Read about Alexander's first Barley Wine here.]

This year's version was aged for six months in oak barrels which previously held American bourbon whisky (my favorite).  This period of "maturation" was designed to impart complex flavors of the bourbon and the oak barrel to the beer.  Let's see how it worked out. 

Image may contain: drinkThe beer pours out a clear copper color, with a quickly disappearing head.  Carbonation is low.  We got aromas of sweet malt, vanilla, coconut, some smoke, and oak wood.  The taste is sweet, rich and flavorful, assaulting your tongue with caramel, toffee, honey, vanilla, some chocolate, and alcohol (whisky).  My drinking partner Daniel also picked up some hints of maple syrup.  Hmm.  "Usually I am overwhelmed by the alcohol in barley wines," he commented, "but this one is amazingly balanced."

The finish, as expected, is long and semi-sweet, with the complex flavors staying with you.  I do not recommend drinking this beer with food; it simply is too overpowering.  Some have suggested, however, that it can be accompanied by sharp cheeses and even some sweet and rich desserts.

This is not a beer you should be having ice cold. Take it out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you drink it.  Alexander recommends that it should be around 
12˚ Centigrade (53˚ Fahrenheit).  This gives all the flavors a chance to come out of hibernation and fully develop.

One further word of caution: If you are not familiar with strong beers (strong in flavor and/or strong in alcohol), it may take a while to get used to Alexander Barley Wine.  Sip it slowly and keep an open mind.  That's how you can fully appreciate the aromas, flavors and mouthfeel of this superior beverage.  This is also a beer that you can set aside for six months, a year or more, and expect interesting things to happen to the network of flavors.   

Alexander Barley Wine is a limited, seasonal edition from the brewery.  Only 2,050 bottles were issued, and each bottle is numbered.  If you still haven't tried it, go out and buy a bottle or two now, while they are still available.

Related imageBeer number three in the catch-up is an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) from the Shevet Brewery in Pardes Hanna, the first of their Small Batch series.  Until now it is available only on tap at the brewery and a few other locations, though I have heard that it is also be coming out in bottles.  We tasted it at Beerateinu in Jerusalem.

The ESB style is not very bitter, at least by today's standard of hopped and über-hopped beers.  It's in the family of English pale ales, but was originally served from a cask rather than a pressurized keg.  It's probably called "bitter" because at the time, it was bitterer than the other beers being served.  In fact, it should be quite balanced between the hop bitterness and the malt sweetness.       

The Shevet Small Batch ESB is a clear golden color and is lightly carbonated.  The dominant aromas are bread and yeast.  The mid-bitter taste brings with it more yeast and cereal grains.  The body is thin and the finish is dry.  Alcohol by volume measures 6.2%.  It's an easy-drinking beer, and we felt it could easily pass for a lager.           

With this ESB, Shevet's brewmaster Lior Balmas is continuing to introduce beer styles which are not made by other Israeli craft breweries.  Shevet's first two beers are a Helles lager (The Ice Mann) and a Scottish ale (Wee Laddie).  I look forward to the new beers that they have planned for the future.  [Read more about the Shevet "Brewstillery" here.]     

December 4, 2019

Juha Väänänen: Finland, Israel and beer

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, mountain, outdoor and nature
Juha in Israel for the sixth time:
"Brewmaster - Journalist - Ukulele Guru" 
Like most encounters these days, I first met Juha Väänänen on the internet.  He was acquainted with my blog, Israel Brews and Views, and asked if I could help him prepare an article on Israeli craft beer he had undertaken for a prominent beer magazine in Finland, which is where Juha lives.  Of course I agreed and I gave him some background information on the subject, while directing him towards micro-breweries and other locations of interest.

In fact, if you're one of the fortunate few who understand Finnish, you can read the article
 in Olutposti (2/19) and also in Hakehila (3/19), the journal of the Finnish Jewish community.

Juha and I kept up our contact and he told me how very rare it is for a Finnish publication to write anything positive about Israel.  The Palestinian and Arab narratives have been accepted across the board, along with good old indigenous anti-semitism. 

Juha himself is a proud and vocal supporter of Israel (which often gets him in hot water) who had visited Israel five times.

On his sixth trip, two weeks ago, we met.

His business card says that he is a "Brewmaster - Journalist - Ukulele Guru."  He worked for several breweries in Finland and still does consulting work for some.

Image may contain: 3 people, including Doug Greener and Juha Väänänen, people smiling, people sitting, drink, indoor and food
Juha gifts the old blogger with
Grönbacka craft beer from Finland.
I met Juha in the Beer Bazaar in the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.  Though it was a cold November night, Juha was wearing sandals, short pants and short-sleeve shirt.  "In Finland, this is springtime weather," he declared.  We toasted his safe arrival (with his wife and Wilma, his 14-year-old daughter) and our good fortune with some of the new Malka Oktoberfest beer.  Two thumbs up! 

He gave me three bottles of Finnish craft beer from the Grönbacka Brewery in Nurmijärvi, (which is also where Juha lives, some 20 miles north of Helsinki) and a copy of the memoirs of his father, a former Finnish politician.  I promised to finish them all (pun intended). 

Gronbacka craft beer
from Finland:
Orange Wheat,
Cascadian Dark Ale and
Grönbacka is a very new brewery (established 2018) and run entirely by a father, mother and two sons.  It produced about 50,000 liters of ten different beers in its first year.  They are available only locally.  Grönbacka is an ecologically minded brewery, using wind energy exclusively.

Juha gave me the Golden Wheat, Lager, and Cascadian Dark Ale (which is a better way of saying Black IPA), which I will soon be tasting. 

Since we both are vegetarians, I suggested that we walk over to Beerateinu, where they were holding a month-long campaign to choose a vegan burger for their menu.  You're served five different vegan mini-burgers prepared by chef Levi Laine, and then you vote for your favorite.  At the end of the month, the burger with the most votes won.

Five vegan burgers at Beerateinu, Jerusalem.
Juha and I took notes and exchanged comments as if we were judging beer.  

We disagreed on which burger was the best, but we did agree that the beer we had with the burgers was excellent: Shevet Brewery's Wee Laddie Scottish Ale and Ice Mann Helles Lager.

Juha and I parted as long-lost buddies, even though we had just met a couple of hours earlier.  After they left Jerusalem, Juha and his family continued to tour Israel from Eilat to the Galilee and Haifa, and flew back to Finland a few days ago.  He is a true lover of Israel and of good beer -- and that's a powerful combination.